An Idaho state lawmaker accused of rape by a 19-year-old legislative intern has resigned after an ethics committee concluded he should be formally censored. The investigation into Representative Aaron von Ehlinger began in March after a young staff member said he raped her in her apartment after the two men had dinner at a restaurant in Boise.
Von Ehlinger has denied any wrongdoing and claims to have had consensual sexual contact with the young woman. He resigned Thursday after an ethics committee unanimously agreed he had engaged in “improper behavior” and recommended that he be suspended without pay for the remainder of the legislative session.
The Boise Police Department is investigating the rape allegations and von Ehlinger has not been charged.
The Lewiston Republican wrote in his resignation letter that he hoped stepping down from the state legislature would save his colleagues from having to deal with the ethics committee recommendation, with which he was not. agreement.
“After much thought and prayer, I have decided that I will not be able to represent my constituents effectively and … I have decided to step down from my seat with immediate effect,” von Ehlinger wrote. “… I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing I have been accused of in this matter.”
The ethics committee had also recommended that von Ehlinger be held in contempt of court for refusing to answer certain questions during his testimony on Wednesday. Lawmakers invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate themselves on the advice of their attorney, but Idaho law states that testimony given in a legislative ethics panel cannot be used in criminal cases . This means the Fifth Amendment does not apply, the committee said.
The von Ehlinger investigation began in March after a young staff member reported raping her in her apartment after the two had dinner at a restaurant in Boise. Von Ehlinger has denied all wrongdoing and claims to have had consensual sexual touching.
The five-member ethics committee also agreed that they would unanimously support a motion to expel von Ehlinger if a House legislator decides to make one.
The decision came the day after the committee heard hours of testimony, including from the teenager who first made the allegations. She was shielded from public view by a black screen and used Jane Doe’s name during the proceedings, but some far-right blogs and at least one lawmaker, Representative Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, revealed the identity of the adolescent in a social network. publication in the media and in a link embedded in a newsletter to its constituents. At least one of the blogs was edited a few days later to remove the teenager’s photo and name.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted.
After the teenager testified, some of von Ehlinger’s supporters and a TV reporter chased her out of the building, trying to film her as she rushed to her car. The Capitol Correspondents Association, the journalist accreditation body covering the Idaho Legislature, called an emergency meeting of its standing committee after hearing of the journalist’s involvement and revoked the powers of the journalist for violating press rules established for hearing coverage.
Representative John McCrostie, a Democrat from Garden City, praised the intern for her courage in coming forward.
“Sexual assault survivors are rarely exposed to the public for their testimony. But she knew that her truth made it possible for others not to suffer like her, ”said McCrostie.
“We owe it to Jane Doe and the future Jane Does” to ensure that the work of the House of Representatives is conducted with integrity, he said.
Idaho Falls Republican Wendy Horman said von Ehlinger was inconsistent in his testimony and wrongly refused to answer relevant questions, and evidence showed he maintained a tendency to hit subordinates at the Statehouse despite repeated warnings.
She rejected his argument that since there was no written rule against dating staff members, there was nothing wrong with the behavior.
“There is no rule of the House against poisoning another person, but their behavior has poisoned us all,” Horman said. “Inappropriate conduct is an indefinite term for a reason that conforms to our rules.”
Rep. Brent Crane, a Republican from Nampa, said public perception of the entire legislature will be measured by the incident and the panel should ensure voters are served by those with moral standards the highest. He said that von Ehlinger had embarked on a “pattern of predatory behavior”.
“The Idaho House of Representatives existed long before we arrived, and it will be there long after we leave, but history will judge us by our actions today,” Crane said. “I want our actions to provide a clear direction.”
The attorneys representing the intern, Erika Birch and Annie Hightower, released a statement thanking the committee for recommending that von Ehlinger be censored and “taking the first steps to hold him responsible for the rape of a teenage intern”.
Lawyers also noted that it had been incredibly difficult for their client, especially when she was approached by onlookers after testifying. A TV reporter also followed the teenager, lawyers said, filming her distress. The news station then destroyed the footage and did not broadcast it.
“The relentless harm that has occurred in the course of this process, and the fact that she has been condemned in the blogs and by Rep. Priscilla Giddings, is exactly why two-thirds of assault survivors Idaho sex workers never choose to report crimes against them, ”lawyers said. “Whenever a system fails to protect survivors, it reinforces the reasons why survivors of sexual violence choose not to speak out and suffer in silence.”
Von Ehlinger and his attorney Edward Dindinger did not respond to requests for comment.